A shorter version of this story first published in the autumn 2016 University of Dayton Magazine
His first day as the 19th president of the University of Dayton was full of that familiar UD word — “community.” On July 1, Eric F. Spina toured Kettering Labs, where students showed their research to restore the environment or repair our bodies with nanotechnology. He and his wife, Karen, attended Mass and lunch with the Marianists. He shook hands with international students and community partners. He met with faculty leaders. And he took selfies with all excited to meet the #UDNewPrez.
Spina, who served Syracuse University for 28 years, including nearly nine as vice chancellor and provost, emphasized his commitment to Catholic, Marianist traditions, engagement with the greater community, support for students and faculty, and research excellence.
He’ll be carrying those themes with him as he talks with campus, community and alumni groups during the next six months on his listening tour. What he hears will help shape the University’s strategic vision for the next 20 years.
We sat down with Spina to hear what he had to say about his first day, his family and his plans for the presidency.
Two days before you started, you joined Dan Curran and Brother Ray Fitz for a photo shoot. What do three presidents talk about when they get together?
Dan I’ve worked with closely, and he has been so gracious, warm and supportive. Brother Ray is an icon here, and to have him part of that day for me was very special. The conversation was light, and primarily we talked about their support for me and their love for the institution.
It’s fun, and so much of what we do is heavy and serious. It’s where our students and increasingly our alumni are, so I want to find ways to be accessible. I like Instagram, which I frame as “a day in the life.” I’m going to try to make it diverse enough so followers understand what a president is trying to do to make the university better.
What emoji describes your first day?
The one with the huge smile. And the one I’d put next to it is the one with the hearts in your eyes.
On your first day, the students working at RecPlex changed the music to help welcome you. What music do you like?
On my phone I have a mix with everything imaginable, from modern to some Italian tunes, but my favorites right now are Dave Matthews, Rolling Stones and Amos Lee. It needs to be heavy with a good rhythm, especially when you’re getting tired at the end of the elliptical. The Rolling Stones work especially well.
What’s the story behind the blue tie with red airplanes you wore on your first day?
It was a gift from my friend Andrew Hermalyn, executive vice president of 2U, a company that supports online education. If you look at it carefully, it goes from birds with an occasional plane to planes with an occasional bird. It’s a great tie.
A photograph from your first day in the office shows a nameplate on the desk, a coffee mug on the shelf and hardly anything else. Since then, what have you brought in to decorate, and what is its significance?
Pictures of my family, because that’s my home. I did bring in one thing from Syracuse. In 2002 I received the Chancellor’s Citation for contributions to academic programs. It came with an original piece of art, a drawing of a candle that represents this light in the world that we needed after 9-11. I was fine with leaving Syracuse University, but the relationships I had in my life at Syracuse are with me in that picture.
Why is it important that we remember UD started as a primary boarding school for 14 boys in 1850?
You said 1850 — it’s a long time ago. We’re an institution with an incredible history that we have every reason to be proud of. Those 14 boys, the graduating class we had last May of 2,108 and all those in between — there’s a web of connectivity and impact not only in Dayton, not only in Ohio, but in the country and the world. I’ve read enough and learned enough about how Blessed William Chaminade was wise enough to know that this world is always changing. As a Marianist founder, he didn’t look back but forward. That transformation from boys’ school to college, from college to research university, and from commuter to residential, those are big changes, every one of which has been absolutely right for the institution, for the region, for the country, for society. We have modeled in the past what we need to continue to do. We like who we are and we want to be better, but our call from our history is to be the disrupter. Where really do we need to be in 20 to 35 years?
We like to bike together, so we’re looking forward to hitting the trails. We like to hike. We love art, museums, history. We went to the Dayton Art Institute but also spent a few hours with Willis Bing Davis and his wife, Audrey, in their art studio in West Dayton. They are obviously talented artists but also humanitarians, givers and leaders with a humility and dignity they bring to art education and supporting youth. Art is a passion for Karen and me, and communities are important, so that was really a great two hours.
You’re trained as an aerospace engineer. What interests you?
Karen and I visited the Museum of the U.S. Air Force, and I know all the planes. My favorite is the XB-70 Valkyrie — Mach 3, heavy bomber, huge inlets, cool plane, great name. My father was born in 1925, his mother in 1896. My grandmother died not too long ago, and I think about how her life went from having never heard about the Wright brothers to aircraft that can fly halfway around the world. Change over time is really amazing, as is what we’ve done as a species in terms of harnessing technology.
What will help your children, Kaitlyn and Emery, both students at Skidmore College, feel at home in Dayton?
Karen has done it — she has created some warm, inviting, welcoming places in their new rooms with some old and some new. People here are so welcoming and supportive, so meeting them and creating those connections will be exactly what they need. And my daughter needs to find a restaurant with really good steak.
Are your children interested in becoming engineers like their parents?
No. Neither one will be a practicing artist, but they are both incredibly talented — our daughter has a minor in studio art and our son could as well. They are both more humanists and artists than they are engineers.
Name one way being trained as an aerospace engineer colors the way you see the world.
My mom was an artist, and I do rely on my gut, but whenever possible I like to see data.
Name one way being a Catholic colors the way you see the world.
The values I have around social justice come from my mom, who was a huge devotee of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton; I have The Seven Storey Mountain on my bookshelf at home. What can Catholicism do in terms of rolling up its sleeves and making a difference in the world? In small ways and large ways this has colored my view. At Syracuse, my focus on diversifying the student body and hiring deans of color and female deans was central to my frame of Catholicism.
It’s still a new coat that I’m wearing. I’m very cognizant of the fact that there are a lot of us working together, but ultimately I’m responsible for all these students. It colors my decisions of what we do, the directions we take and money that we spend. So I feel a paternal or at least avuncular responsibility for our students.
Name one way that being the son of teachers colors the way you see the world.
A lot of what we do is teaching, and there are always opportunities to teach people, to be patient and understanding of people’s context and help them in one way or another. We’re all teachers and we need to think more about how we all engage others in a teaching way.
If you could sign up for one UD class this semester, what would it be?
Presidency 101. But if it has to be a real class, I would choose art history.
What do you want to accomplish in your first 100 days as president, both professionally and personally?
Professionally, the only thing I want to accomplish is listening. I come here with an agenda to make the place better and an agenda around diversity of all kinds. But beyond that I don’t know what we should do as a university, so I want to listen. Personally, it’s connecting with people. You could say it’s the same as listening, but I’m a person who draws energy from relationships. Both Karen and I want to get to know people and people get to know us, what our values are, what we think about the University, what we want for the University.
Do you miss Dinosaur Bar-B-Que?
Have you found a substitute here?
No. I went to a Cincinnati Reds game and someone said, “This barbeque stand is the best.” And it was a ballpark and it was late in the game, but it was not Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
Do you have a favorite restaurant so far?
We’ve been stuck on Wheat Penny, which is really cool. We like Roost. Park was good. We like eclectic. There was a place back in Syracuse we went to often enough that I didn’t have to order two courses because they knew what I wanted. We’re looking for that here.
Coming from America’s Snowiest City, will you miss the snow or will you bring it with you?
I hope I’m not bringing it with me. I won’t tell you that when I was in Pittsburgh for four years, in New Jersey for five years, or in Washington, D.C., for a year, they all set records for snow. Once upon a time, I actually went to the record books and counted how much snow I had lived through. It was an astonishing amount. So I hope I’m not bringing the snow with me.
Friendships endure, but few are endowed.
The women of 321 Kiefaber St. celebrated both this June.
“That year living off campus was life-changing,” said Ann Rice Mullen ’66 of 1965-66, when nine women lived and grew together. Last year, the friends awarded the first 321 Scholarship to a UD student in acknowledgment of the impact UD had on their lives.
The women all lived in Marycrest the first year it opened, and they found one another through housing assignments and friendships.
When it came to their senior year, they discovered a cute white house with a wide front porch and a landlord willing to rent it — advertised for five or six women — to all nine friends who couldn’t bear to live apart. And he charged them the advertised price: $45 per month per woman.
“How did the nine of us live in one house with one bathroom?” asked Jessica Prendergast Krueger ’66 when the women reunited on campus during Reunion Weekend 2016.
It was a learning experience for them all. There was the old wringer washing machine in the basement, a fourth bedroom that was really just a closet, and Friday night house meetings for divvying up the chores. For senior prom, they made a schedule that gave every woman 15 minutes in the bathroom.
“Somebody was ready two hours early and someone was ready at the last minute, and it all worked out,” said Ann Hurley Testa ’66.
Mullen’s mom could not believe the arrangement. “If you are friends after this year, you’ll be friends for life,” she told her daughter.
In recent years, the women have reunited at the Jersey Shore and in Florida. At the reunion in Dayton they remembered housemate Ellen McGarvey Sodnicar ’66, who died in 1990, through sharing stories. Pat Wetzel Kuss ’66 recollected how Sodnicar talked a Marianist brother with an airplane into flying the two women home to Indianapolis — and then into allowing her to take the controls.
“We all grew up together, from innocent little girls,” Karen Sikorski Guszkowski ’66 said, throwing a sideways glance to her friends, “into fine young women.”
Housemates Lexie Shanley Jumper ’66 and Janice Maezer Norton ’66 nodded in agreement.
While the women and their husbands reminisced, senior Abbey Saurine was 8,000 miles away in Zambia, benefiting from their friendship. At the suggestion of one of the husbands, the housemates endowed the 321 Scholarship fund through cash donations and charitable gift annuities to honor their friendship and support the education of a female student committed to service.
Saurine was the scholarship’s first recipient. She is a Catholic religion education major, a Chaminade Scholar, a Campus Ministry volunteer and an assistant in the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community.
Last summer, she joined a service-immersion trip visiting the Marianist brothers in Lusaka and the Sisters of Charity in Lubwe. In Lubwe, she and her fellow Flyers presented scholarships to students and money to their teachers to repair and equip the schools.
“We built relationships and learned about the power of relationships,” Saurine said.
She said she was especially excited to receive the scholarship from a household of nine women; this fall, she’s living with 10 women in the Marianist faith community at 1903 Trinity Ave.
The women of 321 say that while friendships endure, so do the lessons they learned at UD. The women continue to give back in their communities through their churches, groups and mission projects.
Said Jean Gilles Fredericks ’66, “We just value our friendship so much. We are who we are because of our time together.”1 Comment
We remember the lives and contributions of faculty members who have passed away. Thanks to those who responded to a call from the UD Magazine for their remembrances. Please add your comments and sympathies below.
“Takis had a passion for regenerative medicine and, in particular, limb regeneration that will transform the lives of those who have suffered from such life-changing injuries. His work on regeneration was a very significant scientific breakthrough. Takis’ loss is a major blow to UD and the research community as a whole.” —Khalid Lafdi, professor of chemical and materials engineering
“Takis was an inspiration. The department’s current research success was built around Takis’ efforts and spirit; he was one of a very few scientists who could make research sing. I think many of us saw that his best days were ahead of him, which makes his passing all the more difficult. He will be sorely missed.”—Mark Nielsen, professor and chair of the Department of Biology
“No words to describe Professor Tsonis. He was a special person. My Godfather. He had a foresight that very few could understand. He was men of his own kind. Scientist of a caliber not less then a noble laureate. If someday I have to give title of father of tissue regeneration-I will be glad to nominate his name. He could have achieved, and contributed lot more than what he had. His hypothesis has always worked. His imagination was beyond limits. His power to read patterns was nothing less than a God Gift. I am sad that he passed away, and left me like this. Hope whereever he is he is in peace, and solitude because that is what he was searching for in his last two years of life. God Bless my Mento. Dr. Panagiotis A. Tsonis. Amin!”—Abijeet Mehta, doctoral candidate in Department of Biology
“Dr. Rowe encouraged us to stretch our intellects. I vividly recall him handing me a copy of Nature with the advice that, even as an undergraduate, I should be aware of cutting-edge research. Though he was academically demanding, he was also warm and hospitable. He once invited a group of us out to his farm to look at the Andromeda Galaxy without the light pollution of the city. Of course, Dr. Rowe had a bonfire, drink, and an evening of storytelling waiting for us. He will be dearly missed.” —Kaitlin Moredock DiNapoli ’08
“John contributed a great deal to our department during his decades at UD. He developed both our business ethics courses and our philosophy of law courses, coordinating with the schools of law and business. A constant learner, he taught a wide variety of courses including medieval philosophy, Islamic philosophy, philosophy of art, logic, and philosophy of language, and served as a docent at the Dayton Art Institute for many years. John was effusive and outgoing, and loved teaching, food, drink and friends. He will be missed by his colleagues in the department of philosophy and elsewhere on campus.” —Rebecca Wisnant, associate professor of philosophy
“Dr. Quinn was a renaissance figure in many ways and wanted students to feel connections with hands-on experience. For example, what would it be like to do our taxes based on Roman numerals, and how did we shift to the numbers that we use today? Dr. Quinn created UD’s PHL 365: Islamic Philosophy and Culture course to introduce students to the wider web of geometric structures in Muslim art and architecture. He wanted students to embrace the Islamic rebirth of math and science that led directly to our use Arabic numbers and algebra today, with all the efficiency that this has brought in its wake.
“The University of Tehran invited him to speak more than once on Islamic philosophy. During these visits, Dr. Quinn assembled a remarkable collection of beautiful illuminated manuscript pages, which he often shared with students.
“Dr. Quinn was a trailblazer at UD in establishing PHL 313: Business Ethics and keeping it up to date. He would consistently receive top awards for papers at academic conferences on business ethics.
“With his law degree, Dr. Quinn would often give colleagues and students legal advice free of charge.” —John Inglis, professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy
“John Quinn was one of my professors when I attended graduate school in philosophy at UD in the 1980s. He possessed an appetite for knowledge. He studied law, art, philosophy, business and whatever peaked his curiosity. In many ways he was a true Renaissance man. He volunteered as a docent for the Dayton Art Institute. He created the now popular course in Business Ethics. John was generous with his time. Over the years, he dealt with health issues with great courage, humor and dignity. This is how he faced his death. I am glad to have been his student, his colleague and his friend.” —Bill Marvin ’91, lecturer in the Department of Philosophy
“Dr. Watras was an amazing faculty member who inspired education majors at UD for decades. He would start every class with a little joke to draw us all into the moment, but he didn’t have to. He had our attention the moment he would softly say, “Good afternoon.” Like every other member of the Dayton family he cared for his students. I wasn’t the best scholar, but his genuine nature always made me feel like my contribution to the conversation mattered. He had a way of making every student feel as bright and unique as one of his bow ties.” —Michael Fletcher Skelton ’12
“I had Dr. Watras freshman year at UD. He was an excellent professor who truly cared about all of his students and wanted them to learn and grow to become wonderful educators. I will always remember his corny jokes and custom bow ties that he wore daily made by his wife. He is definitely a professor I will never forget!” —Anne Nestor ’12
“I was fortunate enough to have Dr. Geary as a professor during my time at UD. I took his introductory audit course and distinctly remember it being one my favorite classes due to his enthusiasm and practical experience with the subject. Dr. Geary didn’t just simply teach what the textbook said, but instead taught by providing real-life situations that made the topics both interesting and relatable. Dr. Geary truly cared about his students and their well being and I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from him.” —Anita Shankar ’11
For Patricia Russell, innovation comes in all forms. Not only has she taken risks professionally, starting her own consulting firm after a successful chemical engineering career, but her methods as a consultant concentrate on changing individual perspectives.
During her time as an undergraduate, Russell recorded a great deal of firsts. She helped found Minority Engineers for Advancement and was both the first woman from the Bahamas and the first African-American woman to graduate from the University with a chemical engineering degree.
After getting her master’s in chemical engineering and working in the field for several years, she discovered a different path.
“I loved chemical engineering — I liked the analytics and the numbers,” she said. “But while working as a chemical engineer, I discovered the type of work I really belonged in. It was always about people.”
Sixteen years ago, she made the leap. By starting The Russell Consulting Group, Russell was able to pursue the work she loved. Her firm works with companies, primarily in health care and higher education, to improve productivity and create a great place to work.
“A lot of consultants work on changing behavior, hoping that will impact results,” she said. “I focus on shifting thinking, on identifying thought patterns behind behaviors, on mastering ego to transform cultures.”
Russell’s engineering background has continued to serve her well, giving her firm a competitive edge.
“The strategic-thinking skills I learned help me survive the ups and downs of consulting work,” she said. “If you don’t have that strategic or critical-thinking talent, it’s almost impossible to adapt your business model.”1 Comment
In 2012, Robert Boeke and his wife, Rita, traveled to Haiti to teach a three-week math and English course. They didn’t intend to visit the island more than once. But in August 2014, they returned to facilitate a seminar that helped Haitian students plan for their futures.
Originally, the Boekes went to Haiti at the suggestion of Father Medard Laz, with whom they started a Catholic parish in Inverness, Illinois, in the 1980s. When Father Laz later became involved in a project in Haiti, he informed Bob Boeke that his math background would be a help at the University of the Nouvelle Grand’Anse (UNOGA) in Jeremie.
Upon arriving in Haiti, the Boekes realized almost immediately that their students had trouble envisioning the future in their work.
“We were concerned that university graduates in agronomy and business management would be hampered in their ability to start businesses, plan plantings and bring about change in Haiti,” Bob Boeke said.
He and his math educator colleague Mercedes McGowen planned a two-week seminar to stimulate multiple areas of the brain and help students become well-rounded independent leaders and thinkers.
After the Boekes returned to the U.S., the Divergent Thinking Seminar was approved by the UNOGA administration for Aug. 18-29, 2014.
UNOGA will continue to offer the seminar, after sending three Haitian employees to stay with the Boekes for a two-week training on presenting the material. Following the training, the Boekes plan to have daily Skype sessions with the teachers for support.
“Perhaps the most important ongoing result of the seminar is that the students have a sense of empowerment. They are talking among themselves and others about believing that they can change Haiti,” Bob Boeke said.No Comments
Pat Glaser Shea grew up privileged. “I had a family that loved me and parents who valued education,” Shea explained.
The daughter of a steel worker in West Virginia, Shea has been the CEO of YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee, the largest provider of domestic violence services in the state, for 10 years and sees the absence of such privilege every day.
In 1984, the UD marketing graduate settled in Nashville, Tennessee, and began to volunteer at the YWCA, where she saw firsthand the effects of violence and abuse on women and girls. “When women and girls aren’t able to live up to their potential due to abuse, we all lose out,” said Shea.
After a 20-year career in health care, Shea now focuses on ending gender violence by locating root causes. “We have been missing 50 percent of the population, thus half of the equation,” said Shea. “It is time to involve men, to invite good men to be part of the solution.”
Shea has become an outspoken advocate for engaging men in the effort to end violence against women and girls. In March 2015, she gave the TEDxNashville talk, “Violence Against Women: The End Begins with Men.”
In her talk, Shea states there are three things everyone can do: know the facts and elevate the issue, as violence against women is an epidemic; work to change our culture that belittles and devalues women and girls; and teach boys that loving and respecting women and girls is part of healthy masculinity. Shea said, “When women are valued and safe, we are able to be better mothers, sisters, daughters and partners. Everybody benefits.”No Comments
Some might say that Legos are toys meant only for the hands of children. Rafe Donahue would respectfully disagree.
Donahue, now senior director of statistics at Wright Medical in Franklin, Tennessee, used the popular building blocks to construct a structure iconic to UD’s campus: In 2014, Donahue built a miniature Lego model of the Chapel of Immaculate Conception. [Watch the video.]
“A couple of weeks after I had started building it, Paul Elloe in UD’s math department called me,” Rafe said. “He asked if I wanted to come to UD and give a speech, so I thought I’d also present the model while I was there.”
After graduating with a degree in mathematics from UD, Rafe went on to receive a doctorate in statistics from Colorado State University. To complete his Lego masterpieces, he needed to translate his knowledge of numbers and equations into the field of Lego architecture.
Rafe had an admiration of the chapel’s structure, inspiring his build. “Once I finished it, I immediately wanted to build more, so I made two more copies after giving one to the math department. One is with my sister, and the other I carry to Lego shows around the country.”
Donahue is grateful he was able to present UD with something to exemplify his appreciation of the school.
“I wanted to present all the amazing professors I had at UD with a gift that was really meaningful, something important and beautiful on that campus.”
Two models are currently displayed on campus: one in O’Reilly Hall, in the office of Maura Donahue, Rafe’s sister and director of budget and operations for the College of Arts and Sciences, and the original model, outside the mathematics office in the Science Center.No Comments